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Mountain Climbing in Morocco

Published on
Sunrise over The Atlas Mountains

Article Originally Written in 2018.

At 2,100 metres, roughly halfway up, I finally grasped the enormity of our challenge. Mount Toubkal, the highest point in Morocco and all the Arab world. The air was thin and the blood moved through my ventricles with scary sluggishness.

The hazardous scree slopes had given way to jutting rock faces, sparsely scattered with pockets of resilient ice unwilling to abandon the shelves they called home. Cold. I’ve been to Africa twice in my life—and both times I was cold.

It had possibly been a touch naive of me to underestimate just how big North Africa’s tallest mountain was. Three days at base camp hadn’t rid me of my ignorance. NeIther had people repeatedly telling me that it was North Africa’s tallest mountain.

‘Unfortunately, that is the fun part over,’ said Omar, our host and guide, ‘now the real work begins.’

Omar could have climbed that mountain with his eyes closed. He claimed to have scaled Toubkal over 35 times. We believed him. He had that mad yearning to do it again, and again, and again. And he loved the more dangerous portions of the ascent. I, on the other hand, had never stepped foot on a mountain —save for the obligatory, unenthusiastic school trip to Snowdonia.

Base camp had a lingering feeling of tension. The knowledge that we were setting off up the mountain in six hours’ time loomed over us larger than the mountain itself. This feeling manifested in an argument over spaghetti at dinner. Matt had tried once and failed to scale Toubkal—and his mostly mild manner disappeared as he noticed one of our group refusing to eat, ‘I’m not coming back down that mountain a second time because you won’t eat your spaghetti!’

We set off at 2am, our ambitious plan of reaching the summit in time for sunrise rattled around my mind. I took in a healthy dose of air, and then we set off.

The first portion of the climb was staggeringly easy, winding paths draped over the rock face guided the ascent — the incline only growing slightly steeper the further you walked.

Beyond the halfway mark, the incline morphed into an all-consuming beast. I felt as if I was wading through tar, marching towards to my own self-destruction. Sparse sheets of ice were the only let off from the shackles of the steep rock face—on the ice you’d just slip, and scramble, and shout, and start again.

We found a spot for water. Mountain streams that had carved out a home for themselves flowed freely. How I envied that water: it was on its way down

We filled up our bottles and gratefully knocked back the freezing liquid. The de-ionizing agent we had used to purify the water left an acetous taste on the tongue. Water was the only respite we had, and even that had become bitter.

‘I don’t know why you keep using that stuff,’ said Omar, ‘I drink straight out of the stream, you are missing so much.’

‘How much further Omar?’ I asked, ‘surely we’re nearly there?’

‘My friend, can’t you simply enjoy the walk?’

‘Not really’, I grumbled in reply, the zipper that could transform my trousers into shorts had ripped. ‘We’re nearly three and a half thousand metres up and I’m in shorts I never intended to wear, mate.’

‘A story for the grandkids perhaps,’ Omar said, laughing. He had this dazzlingly toothy, unfeasibly reassuring smile, ‘you see that metal frame, that is the summit my friend, only half an hour of fun left.’

For he last few hundred metres, I seemed to have a resurgence. I felt as if a holy wind had propelled me from behind. I was so close. A strange, metal figure came slowly into focus. As I scrambled over the last few rocks, I reached for a length of rusty girder with more longing than I’d ever reached for my mother as a child. I slammed my hand on it, and let out a loud roar—we’d done it.

As the rays of flaxen sunshine began to permeate through the cotton clad sky, it warmed our faces, a flood of oxygen-starved blood filled my cheeks. Our ambitious plan had paid off, and we’d scaled the mountain in an impressive four hours and 32 minutes.

‘This is why I do this so much,’ said Omar, pointing to the scene in front of us. I stood atop North Africa, feeling proud yet insignificant. And deep in my heart, I knew—I never wanted to do this again.